The Beginning

The decision to walk from Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) came upon me quite suddenly. In May 2017 I had reached a tally of Munros that left me counting down from 10, prompting people to ask: “what are you going to do after you have done them all?” Good question.

The answer was not without prior consideration. An impulse purchase of Andy Robinson’s Cicerone guide “The End to End Trail“, in April 2016, while waiting for Cotswold Camping in Deansgate to open, I browsed it over the following months. The book’s history section concludes with a reference to the inspirational John Hillaby‘s “Journey Through Britain“, which I had read at least 20 years previously. Re-reading the tattered copy sitting on my bookshelf, I noted that 2017 was the 50th anniversary of his trip. Clearly the industrial landscape has changed, and much more. I was reminded of his prodigious walking speed & strength, knowing that I could match neither and wondered, hopefully, that modern maps, way-marking & technology might save me from some of his navigational errors. Changeable weather, remoteness and the unforeseen is both the challenge and the adventure.

Robinson’s 1200 mile route follows many long distance paths, of which I have already walked stretches. So, what exactly is the challenge I am going to set myself? Join up walks I already know to get a sense of their connectedness, or strike a new route?

There’s quite a few LEJOG (Land’s End to John O’Groats) blogs out there. One held the key suggestion: “What are your ground rules?”. So here’s mine:

Ground rules

  • Scenic & countryside as far as possible using footpaths, byeways, canal towpaths. This is not a road-walking trip. A9/A99 – to be avoided!
  • If I need to take a short ferry-ride to cross an estuary (eg: SWCP) , that’s OK.
  • If I cannot do this in a single trip, then it’s OK.

Route preferences & considerations

  • One idea I investigated was following Hillaby’s route, but it didn’t always go well. He regretted Bodmin Moor (as it seems did Keith & Lynne in 2010), walked along a railway line North of Crianlarich & went the wrong way in some Scottish glens.
  • Start at Lizard Point & finish at Dunnet Head, to take in the most Southerly and Northerly points as well as LEJOG, traditionally the furthest mainland points apart SouthWest to NorthEast. After all: what’s two extra days at the start & one more at the end?
  • On the South West Coastal Path (SWCP) I have already walked the peninsula from Penzance, via Lands End to St Ives, and a week’s walking ending in Westward Ho!, although I cannot recall where I started. Both excellent, if rollercoaster, walking.  All a long time ago, so maybe a repeat is OK.
  • I have walked the Chepstow Offas Dyke stretch, but also recall this to be a fine walk. I have walked the ‘Stretton skyline’ in recent years, so maybe not that, tempting as it is to see if Hillaby’s tree house accommodation is still there.
  • The Robinson book is great for listing alternative routes, such as the Cotswold Way, (yeah, yeah, done that too, almost twice), which is pushing me to go via Severn Valley & canal routes.
  • I like Robinson’s suggestion of the ‘alternative’ Pennine Way to Hebden Bridge, having done the plod from Edale to Marsden a couple of times. Rest of the Pennine Way sounds good: the route from Hawes to Keld via Great Shunner Fell holds good memories (3 times so far I think). I made the PW as far as Middleton in Teesdale in 1981, retiring with a damaged Achilles’ tendon, & have never been over High Cup Nick.
  • Find an alternative to the West Highland Way if possible. I walked it in 1987, and it seems to be extremely busy these days. Hillaby went via Callendar. Wonder if I can extend this to find a safe route Northwards (Rannoch) rather than veer West as he did?
  • The route includes sections North of Fort William that coincide with access routes to Munros along the Great Glen, Loch Cluanie, Fisherfield & near Achnashellach that I also know. The Westward approach does seem preferable to getting caught in the Inverness corner.
  • I am intimidated by both Flow Country and, what did Hillaby call Sutherland? the Great Vast?

Other constraints

  • Biggest challenge: can I incorporate my planned last two Munros just North of Callendar AND coincide it with a party in May/June? At the time of writing (12th September 2017) I still need to do 3 more Munros to make this possible. Or is this an objective too far?

13th September 2017

Dedications & thanks:

John Hillaby – for “Journey to the Jade Sea”, it did change my life.

Joan Armatrading: “From the Bottom to the Top”

To the limit here we go

From the bottom to the top
Gonna tell all of my friends
Say I can run on any track
Some move more quickly
You know they can stand the pace
Others move slow

But they get there just the same